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6 Tips That Help Me Keep a Clean Home with Depression

Living Well

April 22, 2024

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Photography by Studio Firma/Stocksy United

Photography by Studio Firma/Stocksy United

by Maya Capasso


Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW, ACSW, RDDP


by Maya Capasso


Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW, ACSW, RDDP


Completing chores can feel impossible when I’m struggling with my mental health. These hacks make the process feel a little less daunting.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m experiencing a low with my depression, one of my biggest struggles is to keep my home clean and organized.

Depression saps my motivation, making chores like washing dishes, folding laundry, and vacuuming the floors feel near-impossible.

When I’m experiencing a particularly tough depressive episode, I can barely motivate myself to go to work or even spend time with my loved ones. The dirty dishes in the sink are the last thing I want to tackle when I have to force myself to shower.

At the same time, living in a disorganized, dirty environment only worsens your mental health. Research suggests a link between depression and a messy house.

While it can be challenging to get off the couch and tackle your long list of household chores, doing so can help you feel better. Here are a few ways I approach tidying when it’s the last thing I want to do.

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1. Find homes for your things

Cleaning can be extra tricky when you have too much stuff or no specific homes for your things. I like to think ahead and organize my space to simplify tidying up after myself in the future.

First, I assign all of my stuff to a location where they live. I like to ensure each item lives close to where I use it.

Not only does assigning my things to an area in my home simplify cleaning since I don’t have to think hard about where to put them, but it also helps motivate me to clean up after myself.

For example, I love to paint in my free time. I have a craft table with storage where I keep all my painting supplies.

When I sit down at the craft table to paint, I only have to reach below me to grab a canvas, palette, and paints. When I’m done, I return the supplies to their location without even having to stand up.

Organizing for efficiency rather than aesthetic purposes makes tidying feel more manageable.

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2. Minimize the mess when possible

While sometimes my depression feels like a little nagging gnat that I can swat away, other times it feels like a bear lying on my chest and suffocating me.

On those tough days, I struggle to do much of anything besides lie in bed, watch TV, and cry. Cooking, cleaning, and getting work done feel like insurmountable tasks.

Instead of forcing myself to do the dishes or cook a time-consuming meal, I remind myself that my depression isn’t my fault before grabbing a microwave meal from the freezer.

That way, I don’t have many dishes around my home growing moldy and disgusting for weeks.

Sometimes, I even go a step further and use disposable plates and cutlery.

While I hate throwing away single-use items, sometimes it’s necessary to prioritize my mental health. If using paper plates and plastic forks on your lowest days helps you take an overwhelming task off your to-do list, I think it’s perfectly justified.

3. Take it one task at a time

When I’m depressed, stuff piles up in odd places, and everything is a complete mess in a matter of days. Once my space reaches this point, diving into the clutter and cleaning everything up becomes even more daunting.

But you don’t have to organize everything at once. Instead, I remind myself to take things slow and tackle one task at a time.

Instead of telling myself, “I need to clean the whole place today.” I tell myself, “This afternoon, I need to fold my laundry, and if I have time and feel up for it, I will go ahead and vacuum the floors after.”

That way, I’m not staring down the barrel of 400 tasks and can take them in bite-sized portions.

When I get overwhelmed, I tend to freeze and avoid everything. But if I can take things one task at a time, I’m more likely actually to get something done.

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4. Start with the trash

Clutter feels the worst when a lot of it is made up of empty bottles, discarded wrappers, and other pieces of garbage. Plus, garbage can attract vermin, which creates a whole other problem.

When my depression gets particularly bad and garbage begins to pile up, that’s the first thing I like to tackle when I feel ready to approach the cleaning process.

All I have to do is grab a garbage bag and toss out all the trash cluttering my space. Once the trash is gone, I will already feel more comfortable in my home.

I’ve also started the momentum of cleaning with a simple, relatively mindless task first.

5. Make it as fun as possible

Cleaning is one of my least favorite activities, even when my mood is at its best. That being said, I’ve found ways over the years to make tidying less of a chore and more of an enjoyable experience.

One simple way to do this is to put on your favorite upbeat music or an interesting podcast to keep your mind occupied while you clean.

It can also be fun to turn cleaning into a game with rewards after completing each task. Rewards can be anything from a sweet treat to a 15-minute break.

Another way to make cleaning more approachable is to ask for a friend’s help or support.

I understand just how challenging it can be to reach out for help, especially when you’re depressed and you feel ashamed of the state of your home.

But depression is a condition that saps motivation and energy, and your loved ones will hopefully understand. Even having a close friend sit on the couch while you tidy the living room can help make cleaning more pleasant.

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6. Be kind to yourself

You’re bound to fail a few times as you attempt to wrangle in the mess covering your home. I can recall many instances where I tried to clean the dishes and found myself sobbing on the floor after washing just one cup because it felt like such an obstacle.

Don’t shame yourself if you implement these tips and still can’t get through a chore.

Remind yourself that you aren’t your depression, and tell yourself you will try again later.

Don’t push yourself if cleaning feels like too much. You can wait until you feel more capable of taking on a task.

I promise that time will come.

The bottom line

Keeping your house clean and organized while struggling with depression can feel impossible.

Yet research suggests that living in a messy environment leads only to more stress, anxiety, and depression.

Tackling tasks one at a time, listening to music, and reducing the pileup of dishes are simple ways to make cleaning with depression more approachable.

Medically reviewed on April 22, 2024

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About the author

Maya Capasso

Maya Capasso (she/they) is a writer, entertainment journalist, and mental health advocate who hopes to raise awareness and help others feel less alone with their writing. She believes being open about her life-long struggle with depression works to break stigmas around mental health conditions and validates others with similar experiences. When they’re not writing, Maya’s typically binging TV shows, creating pottery at their local studio, or playing with her pup, Turnip. You can find her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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